Samoan postcard. c1909.

04 Jul Who’s responsible for Samoa’s “persistent culture of violence”?

The Family Violence Survey results released last week at a public consultation by the MWCSD are disheartening. We have a ‘persistent culture of violence in Samoa’ with 60% of women being abused by their partners, and 90% of children and 100% of people with disability experiencing violence and abuse from their family members.

But while it’s awful to see just how far-reaching and widespread family violence is in our country, but it’s also a step forward to now have concrete numbers and information, as well as practical recommendations for the path forward.

Some observations on the summarised findings

While women are also perpetrators of family violence, men between the ages of 20 – 50 years old are the overwhelming majority of offenders in Samoa. For example, in this age bracket for reported cases between 2007-2015, there were 2415 male perpetrators reported, compared with 470 women.

It’s clear that marriage is the most dangerous contract a woman can enter into. 66% of those reporting violence are married. If you’re divorced or never married, you’re much better off – violence and control wise.

There’s a prevalent myth that domestic violence only happens in “poor” families where people don’t have much formal education. The study showed that 71% of people experiencing violence are in the $100-$500 a week income bracket, and only 14% of those in the $100 a week income bracket. It would seem that domestic violence is not about money – or a shortage of it.

70% of respondents experiencing violence have completed secondary school, 24% have had tertiary study, and only 5% only went to Primary school, with .8% having no formal education at all. Perhaps a lack of education is not the reason why domestic violence happens. Or is the problem more about what kind of education we are getting?

Of particular note is that when asked about awareness of services available for victims, 95% named Samoa Victim Support Group, followed by 56% who said the Ministry of Police. This is a clear indicator of SVSG’s successful awareness campaigns and long history of work in this field. Which raises the question – why is a non-government body (and largely unregulated) NGO that survives on donations, the number one provider of social services in this country?

SVSG has had some challenges. Many no doubt to do with their financially-strapped NGO status. Is it really fair for us to be leaving the burden of responsibility for family violence in Samoa on them?

The study calls for a “balanced and inclusive approach” as well as “more from Government”. It makes 10 recommendations.

One is for the Ministry of Women to take the lead role, by allocating 10% of the Ministry’s total budget to combat family violence, and to establish an accountability framework for all implementing actors of family safety.

I’m curious what this really means. Would that bring providers like SVSG under a governmental monitoring system? Would it open the doors for providers to access much needed funding?

Another key recommendation is to use the Village Councils and give them formal authority to intervene in family violence, have a Village Family Safety Committee that included male and female reps as well as youth, aualuma and church reps.

While there’s no doubt in my mind that the most powerful body in a village should be leading the way in this, I’m concerned because who are in our Village Councils? Majority male matai. And who’s abusing 60% of women in Samoa? Most probably lots of those men.

Simply putting more women in there isn’t the answer either. A previous study showed that most women thought that a man had the ‘right’ to hit his partner if she burnt his dinner, went late to Bingo, or refused to have sex with him. If these are the attitudes many of us hold, then we are teaching them to our children and encouraging them in those around us. Its mindsets in men AND women that are at work here.

What work will be done to ensure our Village Councils first have the right mindset on family violence? We cannot have perpetrators lead the road to change if they first don’t recognise their part in the problem?

None of the recommendations mention Samoa’s third gender, fa’afafine and fa’afatama. What of the violence they experience? How will their voices be included in the path forward?

The study calls for strengthening the family unit and for churches to get involved. They surely can have a far-reaching impact on our communities in this and I know many churches already are doing good work to promote healthy family and marriage relationships.

Again though – what will we do to ensure that the most powerful influencers in this country are teaching the right mindsets when it comes to violence? I’ve heard victims tell of the counsel they are given by their pastors, to be ‘more humble’ and acknowledge their husband as their ‘head’ and then their husband wouldn’t abuse them. Is that the kind of approach we need to address the endemic problem of domestic violence in this country?

We must ask, where are we learning these attitudes and behaviours from anyway? In our families, Village Councils and churches. And so, as we look to these institutions for the solutions, there is surely much work to be done.

I commend the MWCSD and all those involved in the Family Violence Survey for this important step forward. This is the start of potentially great work in our communities.

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